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March 7, 2007

Chuck Hagel Speculates About Bush’s Impeachment

by Doug Mataconis

There is much discussion in the blogosphere about Senator Chuck Hagel’s interview in Esquire where he speculates about the possibility of President Bush’s impeachment:

“The president says, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s not accountable anymore,” Hagel says, measuring his words by the syllable and his syllables almost by the letter. “He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends how this goes.”

The conversation beaches itself for a moment on that word — impeachment — spoken by a conservative Republican from a safe Senate seat in a reddish state. It’s barely even whispered among the serious set in Washington, and it rings like a gong in the middle of the sentence, even though it flowed quite naturally out of the conversation he was having about how everybody had abandoned their responsibility to the country, and now there was a war going bad because of it.

“Congress abdicated its oversight responsibility,” he says. “The press abdicated its responsibility, and the American people abdicated their responsibilities. Terror was on the minds of everyone, and nobody questioned anything, quite frankly.”

All of this is true. Grave mistakes were made on both sides of the political aisle that have plunged America, and the rest of the world, into a situation that seems to be without an easy solution right now. But that’s not a ground for impeachment.

Here’s what Article II says:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

It is without question that profound policy mistakes have been made by the Bush Administration, especially when it comes to the Iraq War. They relied on faulty intelligence, ignored evidence that didn’t conform to their predetermined conclusions, and started a war without planning what would happen after it was over. We have paid the price for those mistakes for four years now.

But….

Making bad policy decisions is not a ground for impeachment under the Constitution. Turning the impeachment power into a method of removing from office a President who is merely unpopular would, I think, be a grave mistake.

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21 Comments

  1. “Treason”: Some people might judge that starting a war on false premises, totally mismanaging a war and occupation, giving sweetheart war deals to cronies, silencing legitimate critis, outing CIA agents, underequipping the troops, cutting funding year after year for Veterans— some peopole might judge those as war profiteering if not treason.

    Comment by grg — March 7, 2007 @ 11:56 am
  2. You could argue that but you’d be wrong.

    Treason is clearly defined in the Constitiution:

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 7, 2007 @ 12:00 pm
  3. This is not about being unpopular. It’s about lying to the American public. It’s about American lives being lost everyday in one’s man war. This may just be the worst President in our history.

    Comment by Dick — March 7, 2007 @ 12:32 pm
  4. grg & Dick,

    Again, are we looking at something where we can definitively say (and prove) that Bush is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors? I don’t think a case can be made for treason or bribery.

    I think Bush may well prove to be one of the worst presidents in history. But I don’t know if we have grounds for impeachment under the Constitution. If we can’t impeach someone for outright perjury to a grand jury, I don’t think we can impeach Bush.

    Doug,

    While I agree, I’d like to figure out what Congress *CAN* do to rein in a President who thinks he’s a King… Bush doesn’t appear to believe in separation of powers, he thinks power flows from God through him, and then down to everyone else.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 7, 2007 @ 1:07 pm
  5. I’ll have a response later tonight..

    Comment by Kevin — March 7, 2007 @ 1:48 pm
  6. What goes arount comes around!

    Comment by G Anton — March 7, 2007 @ 2:28 pm
  7. Second thoughts: Why are the congressional Democrats resisting Bush impeachment? I think it’s because they want their ’08 presidential candidate (and really all national Democratic candidates) to be able to run not against the Republican candidate, but against George Bush. This puts national Repubican candidates between a rock and a hard place. Good luck, guys!

    Comment by G Anton — March 7, 2007 @ 2:42 pm
  8. I have to agree with Doug. Criminalizing policy mistakes or disagreements would be a huge mistake.

    There are lots of policies that I don’t like but that is not grounds for prosecution.

    Comment by tkc — March 7, 2007 @ 3:10 pm
  9. Actually, the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon was sending disinformation to the Congress. This disinformation was critical in getting the resolution authorizing the invasion.

    I think that alone is a misdemeanor worthy of removal from office. I also think that the incarcaration of Mr Padilla, at a time when Habeas Corpus was not suspended also is an impeachable offense.

    I think that the OSP matter is much more likely to get congress to act. However, that “crime” can be more credibly placed at Mr Cheney’s door. In fact, I think the impeachment of Mr Cheney would do alot of good.

    Comment by tarran — March 7, 2007 @ 4:12 pm
  10. What exactly was wrong with Mr. Padilla’s habeas corpus proceeding?
    Other than the USSC punting…. twice.

    Comment by tkc — March 7, 2007 @ 8:28 pm
  11. Wait a minute. I must be missing something here. Didn’t Congress move to impeach Clinton? And for what? For lying about his sexual infidelity? What’s wrong with this picture?

    The Constitution may not specifically provide for the current situation, but Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. There may be no hope of getting Bush out of office, but that’s no reason not to act. Bush can be made to pay a political price for his deception and betrayal.

    The Democrats say they want to lead this country in the right direction, well if they’re serious about that they’ll find the courage to challange Bush, and let the chips fall where they may. Positioning themselves for the 2008 elections is a poor excuse. That’s politics as usual, and the men and women dying and being maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve better than that.

    I agree with Chuck Hagel, “If you want a safe job, go sell shoes.”

    Comment by Mike K — March 8, 2007 @ 11:15 am
  12. You are missing something Mike. Congress impeached Clinton because he lied under oath during a criminal investigation; it wasn’t “just lying about sex”. This was a specific charge. What is your specific charge gor impeaching Bush? The fact that he led us into an unpopular war (though it was popular at first) is not a good enough reason.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — March 8, 2007 @ 2:28 pm
  13. I’m sorry, but you see I believe there is something inherently, and morally wrong with your argument Stephen. For me, it is a matter of degree. Clinton certainly lied, but no one was killed and there was very little at stake. Now, the stakes are very high, and Bush is getting off on a technicality.

    Bush took and oath, too. But because his misdeeds do not fit the letter of the law as an impeachable offence he may lie with impunity.

    Comment by Mike K — March 8, 2007 @ 3:19 pm
  14. Mike,

    Clinton was under oath in a deposition when he told a lie. That is a crime, it’s called perjury.

    Unless you can point to an actual crime, then the impeachment power doesn’t come in to play. Bush has already paid a political price for Iraq — it was called the 2006 elections. He is a lame duck.

    Besides, impeaching Bush, even if successful would just mean that Dick Cheney would become President and I hardly think you’d want that.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 8, 2007 @ 3:32 pm
  15. Mike

    Clinton certainly lied, but no one was killed and there was very little at stake. Now, the stakes are very high, and Bush is getting off on a technicality.

    Bush took and oath, too. But because his misdeeds do not fit the letter of the law as an impeachable offence he may lie with impunity.

    Impeachment was put in the Constitution to deal with matters of violations of the law and abuses of power. The events leading up to the Iraq War were the result of bad policy, which were the result of at best bad intelligence and at worst deliberate acts of deception. None of this was illegal and Congress did authorize the use of force. Whether or not the Congressional authorization was legal is debatable, but that would be an issue to hit Congress with.

    Doug is right, the only price Bush could pay is a political one, not a legal one because he committed no crime.

    Comment by Kevin — March 8, 2007 @ 3:58 pm
  16. Guys…

    I just figured it out!

    Mike is a “progressive”. Therefore, the Constitution is a “living document”. Perjuring yourself on the stand isn’t a crime if you’re just talking about sex. But bad policy is grounds for impeachment!

    It doesn’t matter what the Constitution says, it matters how Mike interprets it!

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 8, 2007 @ 4:08 pm
  17. But bad policy is grounds for impeachment!

    Does this mean that we can start impeaching advocates of gun control, wealth redistributors, advocates of campaign finance reform, and government school supporters? After all, I believe all those policies are bad policies.

    Comment by Kevin — March 8, 2007 @ 4:25 pm
  18. Kevin,

    Now that we’re not paying attention to the Constitution, impeach anyone you’d like for whatever reason you’d like!

    In fact, I’m thinking of impeaching you… You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny! :-P

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — March 8, 2007 @ 4:29 pm
  19. Stephen, Kevin, and Brad,

    I admit you guys know the letter of the law way better than I do. Thanks for straightening me out. I apologize for my ignorance and I admit that I am arguing ‘from the heart,’ but this “bad policy” is taking a terrible toll, and I wish with all my heart that there were a way to stop it.

    As you all state so emphatically, Bush has not committed an impeachable offense, and Clinton did but I would like to think that the framers of the constitution would see the irony.

    Comment by Mike K — March 8, 2007 @ 4:35 pm
  20. Mike,

    The Framers would likely deplore both Bush and Clinton for obvious reasons, but I think they’d also be pleased to see that the limits they put on the impeachment power.

    If Congress had the authority to remove a President, Vice-President, or member of the Judicial Branch at any time for any reason they would have virtually unlimited power over the other two branches of government, and the concept of separation of powers would be meaningless.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — March 8, 2007 @ 4:38 pm
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